Nashila Mohamed MBBS ’88
Nashila is a graduate of our Medical College. In attending the College, she took two colossal risks. First, she had never lived in Pakistan: she had no family at all in the country and knew no Urdu. Second, the Medical College was new: she was a member of the first class, that of 1988. Both risks paid off bountifully — for Nashila, her family, and her innumerable patients, many of whom are quite poor.
Nashila grew up in Dodoma, Tanzania, then a small town. Her mother in particular stressed the criticality of education — to Nashila and her four sisters. Nashila attended the Aga Khan Primary School and then continued her A Levels at an all-girls Government School in Dar es Salaam.
Nashila and her family now emigrated to Canada, and she enrolled at McMaster University. By chance, certain faculty members at McMaster were involved in creating the Medical College. Nashila was intrigued and, as she was finishing her degree (in chemistry), considered applying to AKU. Every member of her family discouraged her from applying — save one, her mother: she urged Nashila to do so. On a visit to Toronto, the Founding Dean of the Medical College, Dr. Cheves Smythe, interviewed Nashila. At one point, he said he had observed her arriving for the interview alone: “You will not be able to do that in Karachi." She was not dissuaded, and Dean Smythe, quite taken with her, offered her admission — and a scholarship!
Nashila was one of only two foreign students in that first class at AKU. While she was at first taken aback at the limitations placed upon women in Pakistani society — as Dean Smythe had intimated she would be — she soon came to appreciate much about the country and its culture (and learned Urdu!). She particularly enjoyed her course in Community Health Sciences. For five years, Nashila and her classmates worked in Orangi Town, one of the slums of Karachi; through their efforts, by the end of her fifth year Orangi had a functioning community health clinic. This education in Community Health Sciences inspired in Nashila a great passion for grass-roots medicine.
One day, during Nashila's third year, a seven-year-old girl was admitted to the hospital: she had sustained horrific injuries in a motorcycle accident. Nashila tended to the girl over the next three years as she underwent one operation after another. The girl's family was poor: Nashila was quite moved by AKU's subsidizing her medical care. Resolved on doing what she could to contribute to that care, Nashila fundraised from family and friends each time she returned home to Canada.
In Nashila's last year, the Director of the Aga Khan University Hospital, Dr. R.F. Patrick Cronin — the former Dean of Medicine at McGill University and son of the renowned Scottish doctor-turned-writer A.J. Cronin — suggested she apply to the epidemiology programme at McGill. She did so and was accepted: she earned an MS in epidemiology at McGill, conducting research on childhood asthma in Kenya.
Following her residency at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Nashila practiced medicine for eight years in the Sioux Lookout Zone in northwestern Ontario. (First the University of Toronto, and then McMaster University, administered the Zone.) With the Sioux Lookout Hospital as her base, she would fly in small planes to reservations throughout the Zone and remain for seven to ten days, providing care. Many of these reservations had poor sanitation, no running water, and high rates of addiction and suicide. Nashila then went on to study Community Medicine for two further years at McMaster University.
Following a stint at North York General Hospital, Nashila joined the William Osler Hospital, a community hospital in Toronto. In 2007, as a volunteer she conducted an assessment of the clinics of the Aga Khan Health Services in Tanzania. She went on to volunteer elsewhere in the country, principally in geriatric care, of which there is little in Tanzania. She has long aspired to do creative writing and recently took her first course in “Narrative Medicine" (at the University of Toronto).
Nashila has made AKU the chief beneficiary of her Tax Free Savings Account, a tax-advantaged account in Canada. Her wonderful gift will create an endowed scholarship fund named after her mother, Dolat Khanu N. Mohamed. Mrs. Mohamed was inexpressibly proud of her daughter for having attended AKU — and for the remainder of her life was herself a staunch supporter of the University.
Of her five years at AKU, Nashila said, “They were the best of times, the worst of times. As the first class, we were much scrutinized, but what I learned was priceless: I learned the art of medicine. Indeed, the professors I had later in Canada were amazed by how much I had learned at AKU. To this day — every day — I so appreciate what AKU taught me."
A note on endowed funds
An endowed fund is invested in AKU's general endowment, which is the investment portfolio of the University. The endowment — and so each of the endowed funds within it — pays out approximately five percent of its value each year, supporting everything the University does — teaching, research, financial aid, and on and on. Quite simply, the payout from the endowment is the lifeblood of AKU: the University could not function without it. The endowment — and the endowed funds within it — will exist as long as AKU exists.
An endowed fund, then, is like a “miniature endowment:" it, too, exists forever, and it, too, pays out five percent or so of its value each year. A donor can name an endowed fund after himself or herself, a family member, or anyone else he or she might wish to honour and memorialise. What is more, an endowed fund grows over time, with the endowment as a whole, thus increasing the good it does.